Get All Access for $5/mo

What You Can Learn from Super Bowl Ads Marketing tips from popular commercials, past and present.

By Susan Gunelius

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Whether it's a new jingle, laugh-out-loud humor or shock value, some of the most powerful brands invest millions of dollars each winter to get their marketing messages in front of consumers during the most important NFL game of the year -- the Super Bowl. Hands down, the big football championship is by far the most-watched single-telecast in the U.S. each year.

And while small businesses may not have enough marketing dollars to compete on a Super Bowl-caliber advertising scale, there are lessons to learn and mistakes to avoid when examining these commercials.

Here are a handful of the most memorable Super Bowl ads, along with important takeaways to consider for your own marketing and advertising strategies.

Company: Apple
Commercial: 1984
Year: 1984
Description: In a nod to George Orwell's novel, 1984, this Ridley Scott-directed commercial introduced the country to the Macintosh personal computer. Apple positioned its Macintosh "revolution" with the copy, "On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh, and you will see why 1984 won't be like 1984."
Why it works: It stirs emotions, makes an exciting and positive promise of the future, and uses a well-known and well-placed literary reference. It's genius.
Takeaway: The right message, at the right time, in the right place, and to the right audience can't fail. If you know your product is great, go big -- or go home.

Company: Wendy's
Commercial: Where's the Beef?
Year: 1984
Description: At the fictitious "Home of the Big Bun" restaurant, three grandmotherly women surround a hamburger that has an unreasonably large bun with a tiny meat patty. One of the women repeatedly asks, "Where's the beef?" A voice over explains that Wendy's hamburgers are larger than its rivals.
Why it works: Tasteful humor coupled with a bit of the unexpected almost always equals advertising gold.
Takeaway: Comparison advertising can be dangerous territory, but a clever approach can position your brand effectively against market leaders.

Commercial: When I Grow Up
Year: 1999
Description: In a series of short clips, children describe what they want to be when they grow up, saying, "I want to be a 'yes man,'" and "I want to have a brown nose." The ad closes with the logo and tagline, "There's a better job out there."
Why it works: This ad makes people think there are other, better options just a few mouse clicks away. Change is possible thanks to, and hope is reborn.
Takeaway: Combine emotional involvement with a message that clearly communicates "What's in it for me?"

Company: E*TRADE
Commercial: Trading Baby
Year: 2008
Description: A talking baby sits at a computer and describes how easy it is to purchase stocks through After a click of the mouse, the baby says, "I just bought stock. You just saw me buy stock. No big deal. I mean, if I can do it, you can do it." Then the baby spits up on himself.
Why it works: First, the ad uses the old standby of delivering shock value when the baby spits up. Stock trading can be a confusing and overwhelming activity, but this ad communicated the message that anyone can do it.
Takeaway: People respond positively to babies. This ad used a tried-and-true advertising trick (the baby) and paired it with a clear, concise and effective message. Wrap it up with a bit of shock value and it will get people talking.

Company: McDonald's
Commercial: Big Mac Song
Year: 1975
Description: McDonald's customers attempt to sing the Big Mac ingredients jingle with varied levels of success.
Why it works: It's a catchy tongue-twister with a description of the ingredients in what was McDonald's biggest hamburger. It also showed customers from an array of demographic profiles to demonstrate everyone loves McDonald's, and the Big Mac.
Takeaway: A catchy song can build recognition through the word-of-mouth marketing value it delivers. Although, in today's environment, consumers typically want to know more about how a business can solve their problems before they make a purchase.

Super Bowl Opportunity: Getting a Lift from 'Daddy'

Susan Gunelius

Marketing, Branding, Copywriting, Email and Social Media Expert

Susan Gunelius is CEO of KeySplash Creative Inc., an Orlando, Fla.- based marketing communications company. She has authored several books, including Kick-ass Copywriting in 10 Easy Steps, published by Entrepreneur Media. Connect with her on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

Editor's Pick

Growing a Business

How a Local Greek Restaurant Seized Opportunities and Won a New Food Network Competition

After starting as a food truck in 2014, Think Greek has evolved into an award-winning restaurant by creating innovative menu items and taking advantage of opportunities that extend its audience reach.

Business News

How to Be a Billionaire By 25, According to a College Dropout Turned CEO Worth $1.6 Billion

Austin Russell became the world's youngest self-made billionaire in 2020 at age 25.

Growing a Business

3 Branding Strategies That Will Make Any Brand Stand Out

Here's how to differentiate your brand in three essential steps — understanding your unique selling proposition, leveraging storytelling, and valuing feedback.


How to Spot the Perfect Executive for Your Company

Hiring senior talent to run a team is a crucial moment in the story and trajectory of a company. Whether you need to hire senior talent now or are looking to gather insights for the future, it's important to be prepared for a gap in a crucial leadership position.

Science & Technology

There's No Margin for Error in Cybersecurity — Here's How to Build a Strong Online Defense through Everyday Habits

Learn how everyday habits and practices can enhance your organization's security posture.